illustrated portrait of American author Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Start Free Trial

What term describes the stoic, disillusioned protagonists in Hemingway's novels?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The male character who endures heroically and stoically is referred to as the Hemingway Code Hero. [Interestingly, Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea is the only protagonist of Hemingway's work who begins as the code hero and does not have to become one as the narrative progresses.] This Code Hero follows a set of rules of personal conduct. Here are characteristics of this code hero of Ernest Hemingway:

  • He often dwells in a world in which there is violence and disorder; frequently, these forces win.
  • He is very individualistic. Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms chooses to no longer be in the army and deserts so that he can reunite with his lover.
  • He is brave and often adventuresome. Santiago of The Old Man and the Sea,has not caught a fish in eighty-four days, but he ventures out to sea with hopes of catching, even going farther. 
  • Ironically, however, the code hero can fear the dark, which symbolizes the void. For example, the older waiter in "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" is like the old customer who is reluctant to leave because he would rather sit at the table in a brightly-lit cafe than go home to his lonely, dark room where he must confront the nada [nothingness].
  • The hero always acts with honor in the midst of a losing struggle; he endures. In The Old Man and the Sea, for example, Santiago knows that he may lose the big fish on his line, but he continues to fight it. He feels that he acts like his baseball hero Joe DiMaggio, a great ballplayer, who batted and ran the bases despite having bone spurs:

But I think the great DiMaggio would be proud of me today. I had no bone spurs. But the hands and the back hurt truly.

  • The true measure of the code hero is how he faces death. This fatalistic heroism is exemplified in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" as Harry resolves, "Now he would not care for death....He could stand pain as well as any man..."
Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The term you're looking for is "Hemingway Hero" or "Hemingway Code Hero" or just "Code Hero".

Hemingway's heroic characters may not have been perfect (they were in fact deeply flawed), but they lived by a moral code. There are several attributes the Hemingway Hero has. 

- Hemingway's Heros are cool under pressure and do not crack or break when the going gets tough. In fact, they are at their best when things go awry. 

- Honor, modesty, and chivalry towards women are often part of the Hemingway code hero. While they may drink, gamble, fight, and cause problems, the Hemingway hero is never dishonorable, even to his own detriment. 

- They are stoic (quiet) and prefer to let their actions speak for them. They are not wordsmiths, and prefer to be outside, doing things, rather than inside talking about things. 

- They have self control. Unlike other characters in the books, the Hemingway Hero has control over himself at all times. He may not succeed, but he will fail by his own decisions. 

According to Philip Young, the "Hemingway code" was exemplified by Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, Robert Jordan in For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940), and Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea (1952). 

Approved by eNotes Editorial